Though it’s been more than a year since the Israel Defense Forces killed his son, Mohammed Nakhle can’t stop his tears. When we visited him then, in March 2017, the day after his boy’s death, he displayed restraint and remained dry-eyed. But this week his face contorted time and again and his chin trembled as he tried with all his might to stop himself from crying.
It’s rare to see Palestinian men cry in the presence of a stranger, but Nakhle cried this week for his Jassem, who was shot to death by Israeli soldiers, two days after his 16th birthday, and for everything that’s happened since. It’s not only that time has failed to heal his grief, it’s also the ordeals that have been heaped upon his life since then. For example, because his son was killed, Israel revoked Mohammed’s permit to work in the settlement of Beit El, where he’d been doing renovations for years. This is the usual Israeli practice with bereaved Palestinian families, adding economic distress to their grief with the dubious and arbitrary excuse that they are liable to take revenge for their loss.
Now Nakhle is both a bereaved father and an unemployed worker. His family lives on a monthly allowance of 1,500 shekels ($415) which he receives as a bereaved father from the Palestinian Authority – the so-called “terrorist allocation” that the Israeli right is hysterically screaming about and taking action against, and is the sole source of income in this case of a parent who lost his young son for no reason.
This week, Nakhle arrived at the offices of the public committee of the Jalazun refugee camp. While we were there, other residents also came to arrange various things, victim after victim of the occupation routine, competing with one another over the magnitude of their calamity. One lost a son, another has two sons in prison, a third told about an Israel Defense Forces raid on his home the previous night, carried out only to ask where another family lives.
Opposite this habitation of calamities lies Beit El – the large, veteran Jewish settlement that is choking the densely crowded refugee camp. A report published this week by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem describes how the existence of Beit El across the road causes suffering to the inhabitants of Jalazun because it deprives them of freedom of movement. The access road to the camp, Highway 466, which separates it from the settlement, is often closed without any prior notification or explanation, sometimes for a few hours and sometimes for a few weeks, forcing the residents to wind their way across long alternative roads.
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The report’s author, the field researcher Iyad Hadad, cited a previous report he’d written about the camp, in 1990, nearly 30 years ago, for the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq. Other than the fact that Jalazun’s population has doubled since then, to its present population of about 14,000, not much has changed in the situation of the occupation there.
What didn’t this camp endure back then, in the first intifada? A curfew of 42 consecutive days, 700 residents in detention, 400 wounded, 37 raids on schools. And what is it enduring today? The deputy director of the public committee, Hussein Alian, reports: 45 percent unemployment in the 18-40 age bracket, 75 percent unemployment among women. Some 10 people have permits to work in Israel and a similar number for work in the settlements. About 100 Jalazun inhabitants are currently in prison, and there are IDF raids nightly. This week yet another residents was wounded – Rayin Dalash, a boy of 14, who was shot in the head with a rubber-coated metal bullet and is hospitalized, comatose, in Ramallah.
When we visited this week, Jalazun’s main road was a muddy morass after the rain fell, with heaps of garbage everywhere. It’s like the Gaza Strip, just a quarter of an hour from Jerusalem. There are two schools belonging to UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency, situated located just outside the camp. The school on the eastern side is for boys, while that on the western side, looking toward Beit El, is for girls. The IDF forbids windows to be opened in the classrooms that face west, since that is the direction of the holy of holies, the settlement.
At the end of last year, when the concrete wall that now surrounds Beit El was extended to the west, the IDF closed the road for several months, just to facilitate the roadside work. Imagine a main traffic artery for Jews closed for months, only because a wall is being built alongside it. Some months ago, the road was closed off because fireworks were set off during a local wedding. Even poor people’s joy is forbidden in this battered locale. The road was closed again this past Sunday, for half a day – no one could say why.
Muhammad Hattab, the uncle of a teenager of the same name who was killed a year ago, together with Jassem Nakhle, enters the office. Back then soldiers, suspecting that one of the passengers in the car the boys were traveling in was about to throw a firebomb at the Beit El wall, sprayed the vehicle with live, indiscriminate fire, killing two and wounding two others.
Hattab relates that his brother and nephew are in prison; last week soldiers burst into his home: “You wake up at night and see a soldier pointing a rifle at you. Your wife is lying next to you in a nightgown. You have no way to defend yourself. If you try, you will find yourself in mortal danger. They will shoot you. That’s what it’s like in the occupation, you don’t even have the right to defend yourself or the honor of your wife, or your children.
“I have three daughters, the eldest is 16, and she had a panic attack when she saw the soldiers in the house. She said to me afterward: ‘You are my father. I know you are a strong person. So why don’t you protect me?’ I didn’t know how to answer her. I explained to her that this is the occupation and that soldiers can invade our home whenever they want.”
Sitting on the side is Mohammed Dalash. Sixteen members of his extended family are in prison, including two of his sons: Ahmed, who is 22, and Hamzi, 16. Hamzi was jailed before, at age 14, when he was sentenced to nine months and a fine of 2,000 shekels (about $570) for throwing stones – he takes out the signed receipt that he always has with him. The fines imposed here are astronomical, certainly in terms of a refugee camp. Hamzi’s upcoming trial will begin next week, on the day before Nakba Day. The prosecutor is asking for a prison term of two and a half years for throwing stones.
Asks Hattab, “How can you compare stone throwing with the invasion of a soldier armed with an M16 rifle in the middle of the night?”
Another resident, Raad Dalash, is also with us. His 13-year-old son was arrested on February 1; he is still in jail, awaiting trial. Raad’s brother is also in prison, as are two of his two nephews, one 17, the other 19. His wife was arrested and released on bail of 10,000 shekels, for trying to smuggle a cellphone SIM to her incarcerated son. Where can they raise that much money? From the families. Everyone contributes something. The stories batter you from every direction. There’s no one here who doesn’t have a story, no family that hasn’t been affected – the occupation is everywhere, every day.
We return now to the bereaved father, Mohammed Nakhle. A month after Jassem was killed, the father received a three-month work permit for Beit El. At the period’s end, however, he was informed that the permit would not be renewed. He is on the “refused entry” list of the Shin Bet security service. The reason, he’s convinced, is that he filed a complaint with the police about his son’s killing. In his cellphone, next to a photograph of the handsome Jassem, is a scan of the refusal: “Handling of request document. Your request is refused. Security preventiveness.” The letter he brought from the Eretz Hazvi Construction Company, which employed him for the past four years and requested the renewal of his permit, was of no help. A copy of this letter, too, is in his cellphone, for whatever situation may arise.
Nakhle is the provider for nine souls. He’s an expert house painter and plasterer. Meticulously dressed. Unemployed since last September. “I lost my son. I lost my place of work. I couldn’t stop my son. Every child here knows that it was the Israelis who killed their friend or their brother. I tried to stop him from approaching Beit El. Sometimes he listened to me, sometimes he didn’t.”
About a year before Jassem was killed, soldiers raided the family home. They beat and humiliated Mohammed in front of his son. They had come only to find out where another family, the Rawdas, live. Nakhle says that he didn’t understand at first what the soldiers were asking him, so he didn’t reply. Thinking he was trying to get smart with them, they hit him, while his son watched.
“How can I persuade my son not to throw stones, when all this happened before his eyes? When all this goes on at home, in school, at work, during weddings. Our children live in a war zone here. How shall we stop them? And what did he do, anyway, for the soldiers to kill him? I never struck him, but I was very close to it when I heard he was going to throw stones. But really, how was it possible to stop him, when all this happens every day?”
He’s crying again, now.